Berlin Hidden Gem: Norwegian Supernatural Thriller 'The Innocents' Asks if Children Can Be Genuinely Evil

'The Innocents'
Sturla Brandth Grøvlen / Mer Film

'The Innocents'

What happens when a group of unpredictable tweens are given some dangerous supernatural powers? Eskil Vogt's chilling Scandinavian horror — up for grabs at the European Film Market — offers a few "gruesome" answers.

There’s no shortage of movies about kids who discover they possess special powers. Most of these, however — from The Incredibles to the Harry Potter franchise to the Razzie-nominated Tim Allen-starring Zoom: Academy for Superheroes (no, we didn't bother either) — are very much aimed at a younger audience. But how about a film that absolutely isn’t, to the extent that its main stars have some years to go before they’re ever going to be able to watch it themselves?

This is certainly the case with The Innocents, Eskil Vogt’s chilling Scandinavian supernatural thriller, which is now in postproduction and up for grabs at the European Film Market, with Protagonist Pictures handing worldwide sales outside Nordic territories.

"The kids acting in it are way too young … I think they’ll be traumatized," says Vogt, best known for writing Cannes favorites Oslo, August 31st and Louder Than Bombs, and returning to the director's chair following his award-winning 2014 breakthrough Blind. "I hope they never see it. There’s some really gruesome stuff."

The Innocents examines the impact of powers on children who, being children, simply haven’t established enough truths about what is real and what isn’t to understand what is happening or the consequences of what they're doing.

"I had the idea for this movie when I was walking with my son, who was about 6 at the time, and I thought: OK, if a dragon landed next to us now, I would go mad because dragons don’t exist, they’re not part of any concept of the world I believe in," he explains. "But he would go, 'Oh cool, a dragon.' Because he expects the universe to keep expanding."

Sensing that this part of childhood — the magical tween and pre-tween period where reality blurs and imaginary friends can often feel like they’re there — was a rich topic to explore, Vogt began putting together his story, which centers on two sisters, aged 9 and 11, who move to a large apartment complex on the edge of a major Norwegian city during the bright Nordic summer.

Bored and alone, with most families having left for their holiday homes, the two start exploring their new world, eventually stumbling across other kids living nearby in similar circumstances. And it’s when they start hanging out with these children that, as Vogt explains, "magic stuff happens," with them suddenly given strange supernatural powers that appear born out of their imagination, yet gradually establish themselves as very real.

"What I find fascinating with kids is that they that can experience really extreme stuff and be scared to death, and then they’re like, 'Oh I have to go home for dinner,'" says the filmmaker. This seemingly wild and shifting — yet very natural — mood in children plays into the film's darker elements, as the powers develop, moving from mere curiosities in the playground and into the characters' homes.

"They’re just kids, so some of them can’t control it. And some have problems with empathy, they don’t have that that kind of moral compass, which comes at different ages and depends on their own relationships with their parents and the conditions of the family, and also just how they evolve genetically," says Vogt. "Also you have kids who are very quick to anger. Even a rational, nice kid can go crazy, and the consequences come later."

This unpredictable, underage medley, combined with these increasingly dangerous and mysterious powers (which include the likes of telepathy and telekinesis), suggests that not all the characters in The Innocents might make it through to the end in one piece.

"That’s a big, big possibility," says Vogt, who claims that, despite its supernatural horror elements, his film throws up some serious philosophical conundrums.

"If you have a kid doing evil stuff, is that evil? Because they don’t know. They’re just acting on impulse," he says. "Are we born as innocent angels? Or are we born as egomaniac sociopaths and then have to learn morals and empathy and be part of the social contract?"